S.Africa court blocks auction of Steve Biko autopsy
A South African court on Wednesday banned the planned sale of the autopsy report of murdered anti-apartheid hero Steve Biko, just hours before it was due to go under the hammer despite public outrage.
Biko died in custody in 1977 with massive head injuries after being beaten and tortured – though police at the time claimed he succumbed to a hunger strike.
The report proving he was murdered was being auctioned by the children of the late Maureen Steele, personal secretary to one of the pathologists who conducted the autopsy.
Listed as item 101 in the auction catalogue, the report — “in original ruled paper covers, pale green pages, containing certificate from the relevant pathologists” — had a reserve price of between about $6,200 and $9,000 (5,000 and 7,300 euro).
According to Westgate Walding Auctioneers, Dr Jonathan Gluckman — a pathologist appointed by the Biko family — gave the report to Steele for safe-guarding “as his offices had been bugged and he had received numerous death threats”.
Biko’s son, Nkosinathi, who is also CEO of the Steve Biko Foundation, told AFP they only found out about the auction on Monday.
“It’s just such an indecent thing to do,” he said. “That document was commissioned by lawyers representing the Biko family. The outcome of that investigation belongs to nobody else.”
He said attempts to reason with the Steele family were rebuffed.
“Their mentality of entitlement — that this thing had belonged to them for so many years and was theirs to sell — was quite clear. The only other thing to do was deal with them through the law.”
Sipho Simelane was among the South Africans who took to Twitter to express their outrage.
“Disbelief and anger,” he wrote. “I’m mourning the death of respect and human dignity. How many times must Biko be humiliated?”
On Wednesday, the foundation obtained an urgent court order halting the auction just hours before the document was due to go on sale.
The report is currently being held by the auctioneers.
“The next step is to ensure these papers are retrieved,” said Nkosinathi. “They are a national asset.”
The Steele family refused to speak to AFP.
The father of the Black Consciousness movement who called on black youth in the 1970s to rise up against the racist government, Biko was arrested on August 18, 1977, and found dead in his cell a month later.
His story inspired Peter Gabriel’s anthem “Biko”, and later the Richard Attenborough film “Cry Freedom”.
Thirty-seven years after his death, Biko remains an iconic figure in South Africa.